by Dave Ellison
My favorite professor in college once remarked that, for many students, education was like “so much grain stored against a winter they never expect to come.”
The same could be said for the research I will share in this column. Many parents, for example, especially those of young children, may believe, “This has nothing to do with me and my kids.”
The truth is, this research just might save one of your children’s lives.
“Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Young Adults” appeared in the January 2009 issue of the prestigious journal Pediatrics. The study documented the relationship between how parents respond to the news that their child is gay, lesbian, or bisexual and the later physical, emotional and social risks that child faces.
Peer-reviewed research has already documented how the substantially increased dangers LGB youth face are due not to their “chosen lifestyle” as the radical and religious right often promulgates, but to the hostile society they face, particularly in schools.
This new study is the first to bring to light the power parents have to affect the lives of their LGB children – either to protect them from that hostile society, or to set them up to be its tormented victims.
Specifically, “LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report illegal drug use and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared with peers from families with no or low levels of family rejection.”
I first learned of this research before it was published, while I worked at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation three years ago. Obviously, the foundation had a keen interest since the research pointed to one of the primary reasons many LGB youth may become infected with HIV, and to how such infection could so easily be prevented. I urged the researchers to publicize their findings far and wide. Instead, it appeared in Pediatrics, as if pediatricians were primarily empowered to make the difference.
No, as usual, it’s parents.
“Oh, but none of my kids is gay,” you might claim dismissively. Yeah, that’s what my parents thought.
Fortunately for me, they responded to my revelation only with love. My dad stared at me for a few torturous moments before he kissed me on the forehead and said, “Finally telling us must have been very hard. I’m proud of you, Dave.” (I shared that moment years later at his funeral.)
My mom became a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and soon mailed me a letter: “I ask God every day to send you a boyfriend,” she wrote. “It felt really odd at first, but I’m getting used to it.”
With such unconditional acceptance and support, my amazing parents kept me safe.
Unfortunately, too many of my LGB friends haven’t been so lucky. They’ve been rejected by the people they loved and depended upon the most, which put them at terrible risk – as this study highlighted.
So how much do you love your children? If one of them eventually comes out to you as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, how will you respond? Will you keep him or her safe?
But, never fear: This is all just so much grain stored against a winter you think will never come.